The Good News: RW Jarome Iginla is still one of the finest performers, leaders and human beings in not just hockey but all of North American sports. G Miikka Kiprusoff has had his ups and downs in recent years, but remains in the NHL’s goaltending elite. D Jay Bouwmeester is perhaps the best candidate for a bounce-back season in the Western Conference and his partner, Robyn Regehr, is one of the top shut-down specialists around. LW Rene Bourque emerged last season as a legitimate second-tier power forward.
The Bad News: GM Darryl Sutter has gone insane. He followed up the atrocious dumping of D Dion Phaneuf for spare parts with the acquisitions of overpaid and essentially useless RW Ales Kotalik and LW Chris Higgins in exchange for the also-overpaid and useless C Olli Jokinen, who he then re-signed for an idealistically less pitiful return to the Red Mile. Iginla still has no slick-passing center and will be forced to carry most of the team’s offensive load. This team collapsed to 10th in the conference following Sutter’s baffling dismantling of the perennial playoff core and now has more holes than Lindsay Lohan’s alibis.
Fantasy Focus: Bourque spent a great deal of time on the top line and power play unit in 2009-10 and responded with career highs in goals (27), assists (31) and penalty minutes (88). With a healthy 2010-11, Bourque should top 30 goals, 60 points and 100 PiM as the only other left wingers on the depth chart worth noting are grinding Curtis Glencross and the washed-up Alex Tanguay.
Fearless Forecast: Calgary will face a fierce battle for the final Western Conference playoff spot with Nashville, Phoenix, and Anaheim, but will squeak in behind Kipper’s goaltending, Jay-Bo’s resurgence and most of all, the relentless leadership and elite talent of Iginla.
Northwest Division: 3rd place
Western Conference: 8th place
The Good News: The Avs were one of the hugest surprises in the NHL last year, getting off to a scorching start and then hanging on for the final playoff spot in the West before barely losing a heartbreaking series to San Jose. G Craig Anderson had a spectacular year, and all indications point to a long and successful run in the Colorado net. LW Peter Mueller finally seemed to realize his talent after a deadline deal from Phoenix, scoring 20 points in 15 games with the Avs. RW Chris Stewart added toughness and a breakthrough totals of 28-36-64. C Matt Duchene displayed electric talent in putting up a 24-31-55 line in his rookie campaign, and could turn out to be the rightful heir to a couple of ex-Colorado centers names Sakic and Forsberg.
The Bad News: The flip side to Colorado’s stable of exciting forwards who can score is a stable of suspect defensemen who can be scored on. Adam Foote and Scott Hannan are both battered and past their primes, Kyle Cumiskey and Ryan Wilson are young and unproven, and John-Michael Liles and Kyle Quincey are mid-tier defensemen posing as the Avs’ top pairing. Even with Anderson’s stellar goaltending in 2009-10, the Avs were 17th in the NHL in goals against. Colorado desperately needs 2007 first rounder Kevin Shattenkirk to emerge as a top blueliner during the course of the year if they hope to sustain any kind of playoff run.
Fantasy Focus: Superstardom, meet Matt Duchene. The speedy and skilled center also oozes character, and at 19 years old is our best bet to become this season’s edition of Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, who went from 23-23-46 as a rook to 51-45-96 as a soph. Duchene will likely take top-center status from another excellent pivot, Paul Stastny, and his 24-31-55 could skyrocket to the dizzying heights of 35-55-90.
Fearless Forecast: Contrary to the team moniker, this Avalanche is going up. They still need to revamp the blueline, but Anderson’s netminding and a high-flying group of young forwards will get them back into the second season.
Northwest Division: 2nd place
Western Conference: 7th place
The Good News: Things can only get better for the team which finished last overall in 2009-10, lost their best player (RW Ales Hemsky) for the season with an injury, and then had their starting goalie (Nikolai Khabibulin) go to jail in the off-season for driving drunk. In 2010-11, Oilers fans can look forwards to seeing three of the top young forward talents in the game all break in as rookies: 2008 first-rounder and Canadian WJC hero Jordan Eberle, 2009 first-rounder Magnus Paajarvi, and 2010 top-overall pick Taylor Hall. They have a good deal of deadline trade chips to contribute further to their rebuilding process, such as Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff, Dustin Penner, and, most of all, Hemsky, who should get them another top pick and future star (hopefully in net) if and when GM Steve Tambellini decides to shop him.
The Bad News: We don’t claim to be scientific experts on the amorphous nature of the space-time continuum, but it seems pretty clear that in order to get to the future, one has to get through the present first. And the present for the Oilers is that they lack a top-line center, they have perhaps the worst goaltending situation in the NHL, and all their top talent aside from Hemsky is so young that many mistakes are certain to be made on both sides of the puck.
Fantasy Focus: In the www.fantasyhockey.com experts’ draft, Hall went in the 6th round. Please don’t try this at home. In a keeper league, Hall is a top prospect, without a doubt, capable of putting up several 40+ goal seasons in the future. In 2010-11, don’t expect him to be any better than similarly talented 18-year-olds John Tavares, Steven Stamkos and Matt Duchene wound up in the past two seasons, which is in the 45 to 55 point range. Repeat after us: in a keeper league, go for it; in a yearly league, wait another 15 rounds and get a superior fantasy option at the same position in James Van Riemsdyk.
Fearless Forecast: The best advice we can offer Oiler fans is build a time machine. That way, you can travel far into the past, when Edmonton was great; or far into the future, when they will once again return to greatness. And if you indeed return to the past, bring us back some Molson Ice. No idea why they don’t make that stuff anymore. Delicious.
Northwest Division: 5th place
Western Conference: 15th (last) place
The Good News: Coach Todd Richards is going to an offensive system, so Minnesota fans (perhaps the best in the USA) will get to see a more exciting product. Mikko Koivu has become one of the top two-way centers in the NHL. Martin Havlat is determined to bounce back, and a full year alongside Koivu could see him pot 70 to 85 points. A healthy Brent Burns and trade acquisition Cam Barker are a pretty talented pair to build the blueline around. 2010 first round pick Mikael Granlund has off-the-charts intangibles, and his uber-smart game could transition to the NHL as soon as this season.
The Bad News: Outside of Havlat, who has the talent on this squad to score 30+ goals? Outside of the first line, who has the talent to score 25? Andrew Brunette will be 38 at year’s end, and Antti Miettinen seems to have maxed out as a 20-goal, 40-point guy. The transition away from the trap seems to have exposed G Niklas Backstrom as a member of a long line of good-but-not-great NHL netminders. With D Marek Zidlicky as awful defensively as he is good offensively, will Burns or Barker realize their talents and finally become top NHL defensemen?
Fantasy Focus: After a mid-season trade from Montreal, LW Guillaume Latendresse notched 25 goals in just 55 games for the Wild. A full season on the power play alongside Koivu and Havlat could turn him into the 35-goal scorer this team desperately covets.
Fearless Forecast: The Wild might need a couple of more years of high draft picks before they are ready to reward their excellent fan base with a playoff run.
Northwest Division: 4th place
Western Conference: 14th place
The Good News: The top line of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, and Alex Burrows is quite possibly the best line in the Western Conference. Roberto Luongo is quite simply the best goaltender in the Western Conference. Adding Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard to a blueline which already included the underrated trifecta of Christian Ehrhoff, Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa makes them one of the top defensive units in the conference. C Ryan Kesler is rivaled only by Pavel Datsyuk as the top two-way center in the world, and unlike Datsyuk, he offers a level of ferocity normally seen only in ninjas and Kodiak bears. GM Mike Gillis has assembled a roster which is simply tremendous on both sides of the puck and absolutely stacked.
The Bad News: The pressure is on Luongo to match his perennially spectacular regular seasons with a sustained playoff run. The only thing which perhaps kept the Canucks from the Stanley Cup finals over the past two seasons were playoff losses to Chicago, and there is a good chance the road to a championship will have to wind through the Windy City once again in the 2011 playoffs.
Fantasy Focus: In 74 games last year, Mikael Samuelsson had a line of 30-23-53 and then followed it up with an outstanding playoff run of 8-7-15 in 12 games. In a full season on a line with the dominant Ryan Kesler and the underrated Mason Raymond, Samuelsson is a good sleeper to take in the mid-to-late rounds, an unheralded guy who could top 35 goals and 65 points with an excellent +/- rating.
Fearless Forecast: Maybe you didn’t hear it here first, but you’re still hearing it here. The Vancouver Canucks will win the 2010-11 Stanley Cup. They are loaded with talent and depth and character, and last year’s champs in Chicago have depleted their roster with too many cap casualties to be able to take them out in the playoffs for a third straight year. Detroit will challenge in the West as well, and there will be a strong test from the Eastern Conference finalists in Washington or Pittsburgh or New Jersey, but the Canucks will ultimately bring Lord Stanley’s hardware back north of the border for the first time in the new millennium.
Northwest Division: 1st place
Western Conference: 1st place
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